Use of prayer by African-Americans can help explain why they are more sensitive to pain

African-Americans are more sensitive to pain than Caucasian (white) Americans. That's been shown in comparisons of much pain is experienced in illnesses such as AIDS and arthritis, after surgery, and in conditions such as lower back pain. It's also been shown experimentally, when volunteers undergo painful experiences (like holding your hand in ice-cold water) and report how much pain they feel.Many studies have been done to try to understand why this difference exists. One important area of … [Read more...]

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Planned Parenthood is disgusting? What does that even mean?

Whatever the ins and outs behind the tragic shootings at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, it seems safe to assume that the heated and inflammatory rhetoric that has characterised the debate around abortion in the USA has played a major role.A couple of weeks ago, Planned Parenthood innocently asked Twitter users for one word to describe them. The torrent of abuse that resulted was voluminous and perhaps predictable, but what interests me is that one of the first and most retweeted … [Read more...]

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Kids in atheist families are more altruistic! The study is sound, but what does it mean?

You may have seen the buzz around a recent study which found that kids in atheist families are more altruistic than kids in religious families. Like any study that reinforces preconceptions of a vocal group, it was social media gold dust.I want to take a critical look at it and some of the objections that have been raised in recent days. I think the attacks are off mark: this is a robust study, at least by the limited standards of most social psychology research! But there is something that … [Read more...]

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Make people uncertain then remind them about God, and they become more fearful of sin

There's plenty of research about suggesting that feeling uncertain can increase the strength of belief in god in different ways. But what's not clear is whether belief in god reduces the ill effects of uncertainty, or is a response to it. One theory is that a belief in God provides a kind of reassurance, which reduces anxiety.The research is by no means clear-cut, however. Some research has found the opposite (see: God prompts can scare us into trying to do the impossible). That's a sign … [Read more...]

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Subliminal religious prompts might not make people nicer after all

Back in 2007, right when I was starting this blog, a ground breaking study revealed an extra-ordinary finding. What the researchers had discovered was that just giving people subliminal reminders of religion was enough to make them be more generous in a something called the dictator game.The really extraordinary thing was that the same effect was seen in both religious and non-religious people.When I blogged about it at the time, I was a little sceptical about that. It seems that … [Read more...]

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Surprisingly, belief that God is in control increases support for government welfare programmes

There's an enduring puzzle about religion and government, and it's about what effect religions have on government welfare policies. That's down to an intriguing observation: that more religious countries tend to have a weaker welfare state.Quite why this is so is a matter of dispute. After all, given religion's association with altruism, you might expect that religion to encourage people to be in favour of having the state give a helping hand.One possibility is that if people feel like … [Read more...]

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In the face of discrimination, non-believers commit more strongly to their atheism

It's widely recognised that atheists are one of the most marginalised groups in the USA. As you might imagine, this can cause all sorts of problems for non-believers.But might it also help explain why the public face of atheism in the USA is so stridently vocal? Many American atheists are passionate about their identity as non-believers in a way that you don't really see in more secular parts of the world - you just have to check out the atheist subreddit to see that in action.Michael … [Read more...]

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Religious authority increases the number of donations but decreases the value

In a run-down market place in Kabul, Afghanistan, groups of men hang around hoping that someone will offer them a job for the day. But today is different. Today they get an unusual offer.Somebody is willing to pay them a whole days wage (about $9) just to fill out a survey. Of course, many agree, and are taken by bus to the survey station. Once the survey is complete, they get handed their money in a blank envelope.Before they go, a guy comes in and makes an appeal to their charitable … [Read more...]

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Suicide in Northern Ireland is not linked to religious affiliation

Conventionally, religious affiliation is supposed to reduce the risk of suicide. In fact, the worldwide data show a rather patchy picture, probably because the effects of religion on suicide risk depend on the social context.One of the godfathers of the sociology of religion was a guy named Émile Durkheim. At the tail end of the 19th century, he reviewed the scarce statistics available to him and came to the conclusion that Protestants were less likely to commit suicide than Catholics - an … [Read more...]

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It hurts! Atheists and Christians don’t feel each others pain, but with a twist.

For many people, their religion is like a badge of social identity. You feel an affinity with people who share a religion - not surprising given that you will share many cultural and social touch points.But will you feel their pain? If shown a picture of a Christian grimacing, will you mentally flinch? What about an atheistSiyuan Huang & Shihui Han at Peking University, Beijing, strapped electrodes to the heads of a bunch of Christians and atheists to see how they reacted to pictures … [Read more...]

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